LOS ANGELES: When actor Michael Chiklis won an Emmy last week for his portrayal of a rogue cop on FX's The Shield, it represented a big PR win for the basic-cable network, as well as for Chiklis and the show itself.
"We are not established and not recognized as having a track record of outstanding original series," said FX's EVP of publicity John Solberg, pointing out that Chiklis' win marked the first time in history an Emmy has been given to a lead actor on a prime-time basic-cable program. "We'll clearly capitalize on (the Emmy) from a PR and marketing standpoint."
While Solberg is quick to credit Chiklis' talent and the "quality" of the program for the award, the network put a tremendous effort into managing publicity for both the show and the Emmy campaign.
The Shield debuted last March amidst controversy over the show's graphic content and adult themes. One notorious scene showed a police officer urinating on a suspect. FX's PR team was faced with the challenge of staving off criticism long enough for the show to find positive reviews and a loyal audience.
"In about week three or four, we started seeing some backlash from the Parents Television Council and other organizations," recalled Solberg.
"Our position all along has been that we don't want kids watching this show."
To combat criticism, the network highlighted the show's 10pm time slot and its lack of themes and characters that would appeal to a young audience.
That "obviously made my job easier, and it made it easier to communicate my message that the network was being responsible," said Solberg.
In addition to crisis work, Solberg's team distributed the show to TV writers and critics, and held media tours in a dozen cities during production breaks.
"Michael Chiklis is the template for media relations," said Solberg.
"He couldn't have been more gracious, and I think it came across."
FX also hired Rogers & Cowan to handle the Emmy campaign. In addition to traditional trade advertising and screenings, the agency also helped FX design creative packaging for a special DVD distributed to Emmy judges.
"The whole idea was to make people stand up and take notice," said R&C's EVP of television Richard Licata, who handled the campaign with associate Jonah Borris. "Once we got in the game, it was still a long shot, but we played it for all it was worth."
Cable channels such as FX have the reputation for presenting syndicated programs and low-quality original fare. The Emmy won by Chiklis boosts FX's image, and enhances the channel's reputation both with viewers and the Hollywood community.